Written by: George Pacheco on December 27th, 2012
BluRay released: December 11th, 2012
Approximate running time: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
BluRay Release: Severin Films
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $29.98
Freshly released by Severin Films on DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack, director Richard Fleischer’s (Soylent Green, Conan the Destroyer) 1979 epic Ashanti deals with the touchy subject of human trafficking and slave trading in a manner which is occasionally successful, yet more often than not feels somewhat more suitable for a TV movie of the week.
Strange, because the film possesses most of the expected materials required to succeed: a exciting, semi-exploitative story, exotic locations and an A list cast which features, among others, Michael Caine, Peter Ustinov, Rex Harrison, Omar Sharif and William Holden. Former supermodel Beverly Johnson also stars as Caine’s kidnapped wife, a UN doctor on a medical mission in West Africa.
Ashanti wastes little time in setting up Johnson’s abduction by Suleiman (Ustinov), a charismatic yet ruthless slave trader who is embarking on one last trip to sell off his caravan of men, women and children to the highest Saudi bidder. It’s up to Caine to track her down, of course, enlisting the assistance of what few men he can trust along this dangerous journey.
The real problem here lies within the level of storytelling and character development along the way. It isn’t that Stephen Geller’s screenplay-based upon a novel by Alberto Figueroa-gets us to the action right away; it’s that we the audience don’t really get a chance to become emotionally attached or involved with these characters, with only Ustinov and Kabir Bedi’s character of mercenary Malik creating any lasting, memorable images to their audience.
Of course, Caine, Holden and Harrison are just fine in their respective roles-Johnson, as well, with her defiant spirit and bravery in the face of certain doom-yet Sharif is sadly underused as a stereotypically sleazy Saudi prince, seeking out the best ‘merchandise’ for his harem. Despite this, however, Ashanti does come alive during it’s second act, particularly when the relationship between Caine and Bedi is fleshed out a bit as they attempt to track down Suleiman.
Then action and violence increases as Ashanti lurches forward to its inevitable climax, aided here by the funky, yet occasionally cheesy music of Michael Melvoin. In fact, it’s Melvoin’s score which lends that TV movie feel to the proceedings, which actually isn’t very surprising, given the composer’s track record for television work over the course of his career.
While Ashanti possesses enough exotic action to please 70s cinema fans, the effect as a whole doesn’t lend itself well to repeated viewings, with the film working better as a curiosity; a middle ground picture between exploitation and adventure.
This review originally appeared at Examiner.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Note: The BluRay portion of this review was written by Michael Den Boer.
Ashanti comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Though colors and flesh tones look accurate and fare well. There are some obvious instances in which DNR has been applied and also there are some mild issues involving compression.
This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital mono mix in English. There are no problems with background noise or distortion and dialog always comes through clearly. Range wise things sound limited throughout.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 30 seconds – letterboxed widescreen) and a interview with actress Beverly Johnson (26 minutes 57 seconds – anamorphic widescreen),who discusses how she got into acting, getting cast for the film Ashanti, the cast, doing her own stunts, her career as a model and various other projects that she has worked on. Also included with this combo release is a DVD copy that has all the contents that are included on the BluRay counterpart. Overall Ashanti gets a good release from Severin Films.